Last Night: Trans-Siberian Orchestra at BankAtlantic Center

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Thursday, November 14, 2008

BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

Better Than: A piping mug of hot chocolate and a handful of candy canes on a warm South Florida day.

Before mentioning the jolly thrashing Trans-Siberian Orchestra dispensed at the BankAtlantic Center last night, it should be noted that I have a soft spot for all things Christmas. That’d be Christmas movies, Christmas songs, Christmas commercials with big red bows wrapped around luxury cars I’ll never afford, strong Christmas eggnog topped off with bourbon. It’s corny and corporate and contrived and overly-commercialized -- and I eat it up. And TSO represents just about every aspect of the over-the-top, hollyest of holidays.

The performance itself consisted of a tuxedo-clad narrator in a haze of wintery fog (the fog machines get a hell of a work out), reciting romantic holiday stories in limerick form. Each brief tale was punctuated by the thunderous electric orchestra pounding out new takes on every classic Christmas tune. Some songs, like “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” (a heavy metal rendition of “Carol of the Bells”) and “Wizards in Winter,” get some spins on radio stations and television commercials around this time of year, but every song TSO plays seems vaguely familiar, like those random frosted ornaments you forget exist until you see them every year. Every song and every story has something to do with cold winds, a traveling angel, Christmas Eve, warm chestnuts, or lonely people coming together in the spirit of the season.

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There are no fewer than a dozen musicians on stage at all times: two keyboardists, four or five electric guitars, have a dozen or so in the string section, an enormous drum kit around which everything else builds, and a few vocalists ranging from gospel singers to classically trained operatic balladeers. The set moved from speedy, metal seasonal songs to soulful takes to an acoustic ditty from a man dressed up as a hobo. Fake snow poured down early on. Musicians shot back and forth across the stage like hardcore violin-playing Goth Christmas elves smiling brightly. The stage itself was backlit with screens of white and blue lights that illuminated anytime someone said “star-filled night.”

Yes, it’s painfully hokey. Yes, some old women in the audience cried. And yes, like the real Christmas, this sugary show gets tired fast.

Like so many good Christmas movies, TSO is a nice reminder of all the pleasant things that comprise the cinnamon-scented holiday: the euphoria that accompanies benevolence, children together with their families, the joy of a peaceful humanity, snowman-decorated wrapping paper.

And paying 20 bucks for parking is a nice reminder that Christmas is also a giant pain in the ass.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Like many Americans, I’m nostalgic for the wholesome, picture-perfect Christmas that I never experienced and I’m confident does not exist.

Random Detail: Curiously, in all the caroling and discussion of Christmas, there was no mention made of the real reason for the season -- the birth of Santa Claus.

By the Way: The only thing whiter than the fake snow falling from the rafters was the audience it fell upon.

-- Michael J. Mooney

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